CAMP VIPER, Iraq—Blood caked his eyebrows and his lips quivered with pain. Yet 30-year-old Duaij Mohammed, an unpaid and unarmed Kuwaiti volunteer in America's war on Iraq, smiled through his wounds.
"Some things in life are unavoidable," said Mohammed, who was wounded as he sought to help the nation that invaded his country in 1991, killed thousands of his people, looted its treasures and left its oil wells aflame.
"We all know Saddam. But what about the people under him for 30 years?" said Khaled al Anzi, another Kuwaiti volunteer who was wounded Wednesday. He kept a worried eye on Mohammed at a U.S. Marines field hospital.
Mohammed and al Anzi were among some 50 English-speaking Kuwaiti civilian volunteers who were mobilized after the war started to be translators for Leathernecks on their drive to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
They remember Iraq's brutal eight-month occupation of their oil-rich sheikdom, the way Saddam's troops killed its youths, raped its women and looted its banks and museums before a U.S.-led alliance drove them out.
But they said that rather than revenge, they sought to free their fellow Arabs and neighbors from Saddam's despotic rule and eventually remove his threat.
The volunteers receive no salaries or weapons, just American uniforms in desert camouflage and flak jackets, without the bulletproof plates issued to U.S. front-line fighters.
Al Anzi and Mohammed were wounded in the south central city of An Nasiriyah, where pro-Saddam paramilitaries are daily attacking Marine units crossing two bridges over the Euphrates River.
Al Anzi and a Marine ran out into a sniper's path to pull up a girl who had fallen as her family ran from the fighting, said the stocky 34-year-old television repairman for Kuwait's Ministry of Information.
"I chose civil affairs because I wanted to help people, not fight," al Anzi said. "But when I looked at those happy eyes I knew that we were doing the right thing, that the Americans were doing the right thing."
Al Anzi, 34, said the fighting in An Nasiriyah was "crazy, crazy," with Saddam loyalists using civilians as human shields, gunfire erupting from positions previously thought to be safe, true and false reports of resistance fighters massing here and there in U.S. uniforms or black overalls.
Covered in a camouflage Marine poncho and wincing as a Navy nurse dabbed at the shrapnel scratches on his face, Mohammed said he volunteered because of his memories of the Iraqi occupation.
"This is also our cause," said the stocky 30-year-old chemical engineer.
Mohammed and al Anzi said they had finished their day's work in An Nasiriyah and returned to the Marines' civil affairs camp on the outskirts when Saddam loyalists launched a heavy mortar attack.
"It was all peaceful, and then for 20 minutes it was a rain of fire," al Anzi recalled.
One mortar landed near their position, he said, spraying shrapnel into Mohammed's face, right arm and right leg and causing bleeding in his ear, perhaps the result of a concussion.
A piece of shrapnel sliced across the top of al Anzi's head and left him almost deaf, but more worried about Mohammed's injuries than his own pain as they waited for a medical evacuation flight back to Kuwait.
"No more war, never again," he said as he paced nervously outside the canvas hospital tent. "Now the Americans will take Saddam away."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.